ELYRIA — There was a big obstacle for Elyria Catholic to face on its way to a first-ever West Shore Conference volleyball championship.
It was a very big human obstacle. Her name is Bridget Durham and she’s a 6-foot-2 middle hitter who forces opponents to do things at the net that are out of character.
The key to beating Bay is hold your own when Durham is at the net and take advantage of her absence when she is off the floor. That was, for the most part, what EC did in a 25-19, 25-19, 25-14 victory Tuesday night that gave the Panthers their first WSC title in their second season in the conference.
“She’s intimidating,” EC coach Jen Lee said of Durham. “We had more hitting errors than normal, and she was the major reason. We had Karissa McGrath blocking her for the first and second games. Then we flipped it in Game 3 to give Karissa the freedom to swing.”
McGrath, one of four seniors honored Tuesday on Senior Night, led EC (18-3, 13-0 WSC) with nine kills and four block kills. Durham had 10 kills to lead Bay (12-8, 7-6).
“Karissa didn’t have her best match,” Lee said. “Fortunately, everybody contributed something. I think we blocked very well today, especially in Game 1.”
Blocking was huge for the Panthers in the opening game. EC had five block kills in Game 1, with Abbey Flowers, another senior getting two of them. Flowers had four kills and three block kills for the match.
The two other seniors — Kit O’Shaughnessy and Katie Janowicz — played vital roles. O’Shaughnessy led EC with 13 assists, 11 digs and two aces, and added six kills. Janowicz served 19 points with two aces.
“We had that mentality all season — win the West Shore,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We set that as our goal, and I’m proud of how hard we worked to achieve this goal.”
There’s one more item on the Elyria Catholic goal list. The Panthers are looking to win a third straight district championship.
“We four seniors want to make this season special,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We want the season to go as long as possible.”
O’Shaughnessy hinted that she and her teammates are pleased not to have to deal with Durham again.
“We took advantage of her not being on the floor by running a faster offense,” O’Shaughnessy said.
The Panthers benefited from Durham’s absence by moving away from a 5-5 tie with an 11-1 run in the first game.
EC failed to take advantage of having Durham on the bench in Game 2, but managed to win in spite of it. The Rockets went ahead 14-9 — with Makenna Coyle scoring on three straight block kills — before the Panthers ended the game on a 15-4 run.
The third game was close for most of the time until Durham departed with Elyria Catholic winning 16-14. The Panthers responded to her not being at the net by scoring the game’s final nine points to end the match and hoist their first WSC volleyball trophy.
Rachel Duffield, a junior, had five of her nine kills in Game 3. Marie Vasitas had 11 assists. Flowers and McGrath had six blocks each and Becca Pronesti added 10 digs.
Megan Lowery led Bay with 22 assists. Laura Wilson and Emily Garrity had three kills each for the Rockets.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.